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Competition as a Socially Desirable Dilemma. Theory vs. Experimental Evidence

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  • Christoph Engel

    () (Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods)

Abstract

Cartels are inherently instable. Each cartelist is best off if it breaks the cartel, while the remain-ing firms remain loyal. If firms interact only once, if products are homogenous, if firms compete in price, and if marginal cost is constant, theory even predicts that strategic interaction forces firms to set the market clearing price. For society, this would be welcome news. Without antitrust intervention, the market outcome maximises welfare. The argument becomes even stronger if the opposite market side has a chance to defend itself; if imposing harm on the opposite market side is salient; if it is clear that cartels are at variance with normative expectations prevalent in society. There is an equally long list of reasons, though, why such optimism might be unwarranted: capacity is limited; interaction is repeated, and the end is uncertain; firms might be willing to run a limited risk of being exploited by their competitors, hoping that the investment pays. This paper explores the question both theoretically and experimentally. In the interest of capitalising on a rich body of experimental findings, and on the concept of conditional cooperation in particular, the paper offers a formal model that interprets oligopoly as a linear public good.

Suggested Citation

  • Christoph Engel, 2009. "Competition as a Socially Desirable Dilemma. Theory vs. Experimental Evidence," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2009_24, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.
  • Handle: RePEc:mpg:wpaper:2009_24
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Ernst Fehr & Klaus M. Schmidt, 1999. "A Theory of Fairness, Competition, and Cooperation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(3), pages 817-868.
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    3. Christoph Engel, 2008. "The Behaviour of Corporate Actors. A Survey of the Empirical Literature," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2008_23, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods.
    4. Jennifer Zelmer, 2003. "Linear Public Goods Experiments: A Meta-Analysis," Experimental Economics, Springer;Economic Science Association, vol. 6(3), pages 299-310, November.
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    9. Christoph Engel, 2007. "Tacit Collusion. The Neglected Experimental Evidence," Discussion Paper Series of the Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods 2007_14, Max Planck Institute for Research on Collective Goods, revised Jan 2015.
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    More about this item

    Keywords

    Cartel; Oligopoly; Bertrand; Cournot; Public Good; Externality; Experiment;

    JEL classification:

    • A13 - General Economics and Teaching - - General Economics - - - Relation of Economics to Social Values
    • C91 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Design of Experiments - - - Laboratory, Individual Behavior
    • D43 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Oligopoly and Other Forms of Market Imperfection
    • D62 - Microeconomics - - Welfare Economics - - - Externalities
    • H23 - Public Economics - - Taxation, Subsidies, and Revenue - - - Externalities; Redistributive Effects; Environmental Taxes and Subsidies
    • H41 - Public Economics - - Publicly Provided Goods - - - Public Goods
    • K21 - Law and Economics - - Regulation and Business Law - - - Antitrust Law
    • L13 - Industrial Organization - - Market Structure, Firm Strategy, and Market Performance - - - Oligopoly and Other Imperfect Markets

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